Tag Archives: england

England Days 3-7: The Impact of Jet Lag


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Granddaughter and wife on stroll to school. We are going with her on a field trip.

I started off this visit with a short burst of energy that allowed me to write daily blog posts for the first two days of my English trip, but then jet lag kicked in. Each evening, I would edit and post a few images to Facebook, intending, after that, to write a blog post about the day.

And I failed each day. Except that today, when I checked my blog, there were three recent nonsense posts, one just the numeral 5, while the rest weren’t even words, just strings of letters.

Wow. Jet. Lag.

Anyway, the visit to England has been better than the blogging. Let’s see, what have I missed telling you about?

Wednesday, June 19—Walked grandkids to school, went to City Centre and arranged to rent a bicycle next week. Matt went on business trip and I borrow his bike—first short bike ride.
Thursday, June 20—We drove to a nearby village for book shopping and visit to nice outdoor gardens. Longer afternoon bike ride.
Friday, June 21—Audrey and I are “parents” on a school field trip, Lizzie’s Year 4 class walks to East Anglia University campus for nature hunt in green space by a river. Sunburn.
Saturday June 22 and Sunday June 23—We agree to watch the grandchildren so Matt and Amanda can celebrate their anniversary with a weekend getaway to London. It seems to be going well (knock on wood, it’s several hours before they get home). It’s not as much work as it could be, Juliet was gone for much of Saturday on a Brownie excursion to a zoo, and Elizabeth had a sleepover birthday party, but still, we get some good karma for being brave grandparents.

I complained about the UK a bit on my bike blog, because navigating the streets for a bicycle ride was more challenging that it should be in any organized universe. This post will be way more positive, because there is a lot to enjoy about England.

I can’t claim to be an unbiased judge of that. With my oldest daughter and three of my grandchildren living here, I am predisposed to have good thoughts about the place that pleasantly houses some people I love. Still, biased or not, I can judge when I want to, and isn’t that what a blog is for?

So here are additional good points of the UK.

First, the school system seems good here. I don’t know too much about it, but the Friday field trip was a positive experience. For one thing, it’s a bit of distance from the middle school Elizabeth attends to the university campus. Google maps says it’s 1.1 miles, but that seems like a lie, because that would be like waking from our house to the Collins Aerospace duck pond and back—and we walked a lot farther.

Of course, Google may not be accounting for the walk across the University of East Anglia campus to get to the site of the nature hunt, but that was not a great distance. I am not sure many American schools would walk four classes of fifth graders as far as we walked Friday—and that’s sort of a score one for England.

The day seemed mildly well spent. The teacher and aides seemed to know the children well and to anticipate and deal with issues. There was one allergic reaction to pollen, one girl with sunscreen in the eyes (luckily, not Elizabeth), and so on—normal school stuff, which was dealt with calmly. I imagine many American teachers and aides would have done as well, yet it was still good to see.

Rounders, by the way, looks like a drunk person tried to plan baseball and failed.

A second positive aspect of England is that walking and biking seem fairly normal here. On a weekend in City Centre, for example, there are crowds of people and hundreds of little shops open and bustling. The English are not hidden in their houses watching TV or playing video games, they are out and about. And using their feet and their pedals, many of them—auto traffic is heavy, too, but it’s startling how many people you just see walking downtown contrasted with what a comparable American city is like.

There is also the food. You can find plenty of bland and bad food in the UK—the British are known for it. But that has not been our experience. Of course, part of that is that my daughter is a much better cook than I am, and feeds us grandly. But the meals out we’ve had have been local, quirky and quite good. For example, on our art trip Thursday to the Norfolk Children’s Book Centre and the Alby Crafts and Gardens, we ate lunch at a tea room at the craft place.

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Tea room lunch. We were very pleased with it.

I got a chicken salad, as did Audrey, and we shared an order of fries at the table. It was a leafy, fresh salad with a tasty dressing—somehow, despite all of their reputation otherwise, it seems many Brits have learned not only to cook, but to cook well.

Granted, we made the mistake of buying store meatballs to feed the family Sunday for dinner, and they turned out to be very bland and made us miss American store meatballs—but that was a culinary exception. For the most part, eating here has a been a joy, and we haven’t even had proper fish and chips nor sticky toffee pudding yet.

England! I could eat you up.

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England Day 1: A Pleasant Zombie Walk


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On the walk to school–pretty, familiar looking northern hemisphere sky, somewhat less familiar street scenery.

The luggage showed up quickly, and that was a blessing.

We flew from Detroit to Amsterdam to get here, and then from Amsterdam to Norwich. We had a fairly tight layover in Holland—but our overnight flight landed a few minutes early, and the connecting gate to our next flight to the UK turned out to be in fairly close proximity to our arrival gate.

But our bags did not make it with us, and we were not alone. At the Norwich Airport following the morning flight, there was a bit of a queue at the lost baggage desk. Sigh.

Still, entering the UK these days is pretty easy. There used to be an odd little customs card to complete, and a separate line for non-European passports that involved a bit more questioning. Monday, we were in line with all the British passports, there was no customs form and the questioning was concise.

We were picked up by our daughter, and met the toddler grandson who we have seen before, but mostly know via WhatsApp video calls. He was a little confused at first—those people from the computer can step out of cyberspace? —but quickly warmed up and even allowed me to carry him about the house a bit in the afternoon.

Our daughter had to leave on an extended errand, which was OK because my wife and I had at best only dozed on the long overnight flight, so we both took a 3-hour nap. And in the afternoon, we walked with her and the grandson to go meet out two granddaughters, who attend two different nearby schools. I felt a bit fuzzy headed on the walk—I’m afraid I was a bit of a living zombie—but the sky was pretty, and company pleasant and it was nice to be out. The strong cup of coffee my daughter made for me did not hurt, either.

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Bikes at school as we arrive to pick up granddaughter. It is nice to be in a country were bicycles are “normal” transportation.

I’m not yet used to the local geography. I sort of knew my way around Norwich before, from a previous house that my daughter and son-in-law were renting. They have since purchased a house. It’s in the same general neighborhood, but right now the streets are a bit of a confusing mess in my jet-lagged mind.

Still, despite being very tired, it was exciting to again see our Norwich family. The grandchildren didn’t appreciate my dad jokes, but nobody does, and that’s OK. After all, a dad joke (my oldest granddaughter is studying the Romans, which I suggested were named for their penchant for oars) is at best measured in a scale from “I don’t get it” to outright groans.

England is an interesting mix of familiar and alien. Roses are blooming here, as they are in Iowa. I saw bees among very familiar flowers—my son-in-law and daughter have very pretty foxglove in their tiny back garden, nice colorful blooms you can see from the kitchen window. At the same time, everything is different here. They speak English, but it’s not American English—you can understand them, but there is a bit of work to it. I suppose they feel the same about us. Their tiny row houses are all crowded together, which seems like a more space-efficient way to construct a city, but is not the familiar American ranch home on individual quarter-acre lots. When we were waiting at one of the schools, I looked out over a nearby hillside in view, and the rows of chimneys we could see looked very “Mary Poppins” or “Yellow Submarine.”

We were blessed with a nice day, warm and sunny, and are even more blessed with the warmth of familiar familial re-connection. The grandchildren are bigger and older, and I’m betting we will have some fun over this visit. The luggage, as it turned out, made the afternoon flight from Amsterdam and was delivered to a neighbor while we were doing the zombie walk to school.

UK! I’m tired, and I’m typing at 3:30 a.m., but that’s OK. We are here in Norwich, and I can’t wait to see what adventures await us.

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It’s Hard to be Grumpy in London


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Daffodils blooming and Albert Memorial in background in Hyde Park, London, March 23, 2018.

Well, not if you’re a kid and you got up way too early, I suppose. And I guess my travel companions would argue that there were times Friday when I was a bit frayed at the edges, so maybe the title should be “it’s hard to stay grumpy in London.”

I like visiting large cities. The museums and shops of Minneapolis, St. Louis, Kansas City, Chicago, Seattle, San Francisco, New Orleans, Vancouver—I’ve been there and would willingly go back. New York City is prominent on my list of places I want to go, and if you’re planning a trip to D.C. any time, I would love to be with you.

In particular, I hope to get back to San Francisco.

But though I love all the cities on my continent, London seems like a special place. It’s so steeped in the world—more of an international crossroads than any American city. It bears the marks of its sometimes volatile, violent history. It seems a bit cleaner than many North American metros. Despite its vast size—London is a huge, sprawling city—it is also human in scale, with narrow walkways, bike paths and streets.

It’s a city of glittering, ugly new skyscrapers. But in other areas, the buildings are only 4 or 5 stories high—creating a crowded cityscape that is nonetheless more light and airy than many central urban areas.

We were lucky this year to spend spring break in England. Friday was our full day in London. We arrived Thursday and depart Saturday, and I am thrillingly awaiting my first visit to the British Museum today. Thursday was the Science Museum, an accidental stroll through Imperial College, Hyde Park and a pretentious museum in the Greenwich neighborhood that was actually a extensive advertisement for how self-consciously cool the real estate in the Greenwich Peninsula is.

The underground is loud and crowded and smells of oil and age, and I love it. As my wife and two granddaughters were on our own for the morning, my son-in-law had specified the route—take the Jubilee Line to Green Park, and switch there to the Victoria Line for the tube to South Kensington Station.

I was a little paranoid about riding the wrong way, but as Audrey pointed out, if that happens you just hop off the train and take one headed the other way.

The Science Museum, when we got there, was crowded and noisy. I spent my time chasing after grandchildren rather than strolling through the technology exhibits, which would have been my choice. Still, playing with grandchildren is a pleasant way to while away a morning, and it was a prelude to a glorious afternoon.

March in Iowa is a transition month, a mix of winter and spring that will bring 10 inches of snow today. While England saw a rare snowfall earlier in March, and the weather has been cool, it’s still very much spring here, with flowers in bloom and green grass, even if the trees have not yet woken from winter slumber. Friday afternoon was strolling in Hyde Park.

If I came here with just adults, I would be tempted to rent bicycles to see more of the park, but what I did experience on a pretty spring afternoon convinces me that one of the glories of Britain, besides the Beatles and Monty Python, is parks. Their playgrounds tend to be wood and metal and sturdy and old-fashioned, with swings and teeter totters and dangerous things that would not ever be built today in North America, where playgrounds are plastic and padded and safe and dull by comparison.

The day was also filled with food. We had lunch at a quick food shop that defies description. With its rice base and spices, I considered it Asian, but my son-in-law says it was a French fusion place. Whatever. It was filling and good and definitely not McDonalds.

And when we grew tired in the afternoon and had the early rush hour Underground journey back to our temporary apartment by the Thames, there was a stop for sticky toffee pudding. If you haven’t, perhaps the expense and time of a flight to London is worth your while to experience that dessert. I liked it, although, in full disclosure, I know from personal experience that my daughter and son-in-law can whip up an even tastier version of this treat.

The Brits don’t have a great reputation for culinary genius, but in my experience, eating in England features delightful dining. True, they invented beans on toast as a meal, but they also created fish and chips and sticky toffee pudding.

Well, God save the Queen and all of her subjects. I visited a pub in Norwich earlier this week and hoisted several pints. Cheers to England and to London, which right now is about my favorite city in all the world.

Of course, my opinion may be tainted. We’ve been hosted by my delightful oldest daughter and her family. There are two active, bouncy girls to play with and a baby boy to cuddle. That and Hyde Park—what more can one ask of a great city?

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On the Bucket List: Return to London


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On walkway across the Thames, looking back towards St. Paul’s.

I’m sure it’s not a shock that there was too much to see and do in London that it would not fit in a one-day visit.

Last week, my wife and I were hosted in London by our daughter and son-in-law. We took a train from Norwich Saturday morning, visited two museums that day, walked about central London Sunday morning, and returned by rail to Norwich Sunday afternoon.

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Sunshine Sunday morning.

Along the way, we had a very nice Easter dinner in a local restaurant. It was a very pleasurable visit, and I thought about all kinds of things I would like to do now in London that 24 hours would not accommodate:

•    Visit the British Museum. I was in the same town as the Rosetta Stone, but didn’t stop by to say hi.
•    Ride the Eye. Easter weekend was a busy time at any tourist attraction in London anyway, so not standing in long lines for a giant Ferris Wheel was, all things considered, a good move. But it would be nice to spend a few days in London and maybe ride that thing on a random Tuesday or Wednesday morning when the crowds and lines are merely large and not hugemongus. This particular ambition, by the way, may come as a surprise to my kin and friends because I have a well-deserved reputation of being terrified of heights in general and Ferris Wheels in particular. But just as I can fly to London despite the clear irrational nature of the activity (you want me to strap myself into a pressurized metal tube that flies 10 miles high and trust it will both ascend and descend safely?), so I think I could screw my courage to the sticking point and ride in the London Eye, stealing brief glances at the city in between shutting my eyes or staring fixedly at my feet.
•    Do art. I would have to research which museums to stop by, but I generally love art museums, and didn’t stop in any during my brief, first visit to London.

Not that London is paradise. There is a thing called “weather” and it doesn’t play to the city’s strengths. There is a saying in Iowa that if you don’t like the weather just wait 10 minutes—in our volatile climate, the same week or day can feature warm sun, cool rain and snow, as this week testifies.

London, based on my small sample, is more so. We were blessed with sunshine Sunday for our stroll along the Thames, but we were also cursed with sudden, nasty cold rains that had us scurrying for shelter in doorways or under bridges. We saw sun, wind, rain, hail, and, briefly, snow—all in the course of one three-hour stroll.

At least we had some sun.

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Granddaughter peeks out at cold, heavy rain. We are sheltering in a church doorway.

Also, London is also not the cleanest of cities. It’s not drab and black and smoggy as it used to be, by accounts I’ve read, and I’m grateful for that, but the Brits could learn to use the waste bin a bit more efficiently. Then again, to be honest, I’m not sure London is as dirty or dirtier than any large American city, where there are plenty of litterbugs, too. Maybe Norwich, a much smaller place, spoiled me a bit.

London is also full of Londoners. You have to get used to being in a crowd most of the time, which an Iowan isn’t. I didn’t’ find that to be a nasty or unpleasant experience, just a bit of a new sensation.

Of course, we were visiting the Natural History Museum and the Science Museums on Easter weekend, as was, apparently, most of the inhabitants of the small island nation were London is located. So crowds were partly an artifact of where we were when we were there—and on many parts of our walk—the journey back from the Easter restaurant, for instance—we had the narrow, inadequate sidewalks of the old imperial capital mostly to ourselves.

London! Dinner at the Chop House, dinosaur bones and old planes, fantastic architecture and a pleasant tidal estuary to stroll along and over—you are, all in all, a wonderful city. It didn’t hurt that I was surrounded by family during the visit either—it’s always nice to be in a strange place with familiar people who know their way around, and I am grateful to Matt and Amanda (and Lizzie and Juliet and Audrey) for sharing the experience with me.

I will treasure many memories. I was very enchanted by the underground and the rail system in Britain—it’s a country that makes traveling without a car an easy thing, something that the U.S. should look into sometime. The museums that we did visit were fascinating, especially the Natural History Museum where we got to say hello to Charles Darwin who was taxidermied and placed in a hallway there (not really, it’s just a statue, but this is April 1).

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Charles Darwin, stuffed, mounted and placed on stairs landing.

At one tube station, there were lifts to take you to the street. While Amanda and Matt and family wisely rode those lifts, my wife and I walked up the stairs.

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Looking back at many, many stairs I have just ascended. Way down there is a tube station. Way, way down there.

The sign warned us that the number of stairs was the equivalent of a 15-story building. I don’t know about that—maybe British stories, which, like everything else in Britain besides museums are smaller than their American equivalent—but it was a hike. Better to look back on than forward to, I’ll give it that. We made it, and frankly we enjoyed the long hikes—and were very impressed at how well our young grandchildren did doing much of their London adventure on foot.

London! I hope to see you again.

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June Needs Slowing Down—I’m Having Too Much Fun


Two English granddaughters in the pool today.

Two English granddaughters in the pool today.

June is flying by way too quickly, which means I must be having a good time.

What has been occupying my time? All sorts of things:

  • Making plans for the World War I series at Mount Mercy. Scheduling is a real pain.
  • Taking piano lessons and practicing the piano. Honestly, at least a little.
  • Laying plans for next school year.
  • Hosting visitors from across the pond.

That final point is the reason I most wish I could slow June down. My daughter, son-in-law and their two daughters are visiting us right now. They live in Norwich, England, where he is a plant scientist and she is an artist and the collaborator on the “Princess Ninja” stories.

And, of course, they have two little ninja princesses of their own.

They are both charming little girls, and both are firecrackers wrapped in dynamite. They are in young childhood, a time of life full of energy and big mood swings. Mostly, they’ve been happy, and I’m very happy they’ve been around.

Miss Lizzie eats a cupcake during an unbirthday party with her sister and cousins.

Miss Lizzie eats a cupcake during an unbirthday party with her sister and cousins.

Miss Lizzie greets me almost every morning with a hug. She speaks in a polite, soft English-American accent that sounds very refined. She wears an almost perpetual grin, but also has a wild light in her eyes that you do have to watch out for.

Lizzie is going to turn 5 this fall.

Juliet, the junior partner, is a bit more reserved than her sister. But for her age, she is also bigger and louder. Lizzie has been in the British school system, and sounds almost refined. Juliet still lives mostly at home, and her accent is broader and slightly more Americanized.

If the two were cast in a Hollywood movie, Elizabeth would be the princess and Juliet would be her amusing, wisecracking, cockney-accented sidekick.

Juliet is a star, darling.

Juliet is a star, darling.

Juliet will be 3 this fall.

They leave tomorrow. Luckily, this time they won’t go far—only to Ames and they are coming back. But, too soon, they will fly back to England.

I’ll be sad to see them go. The house will be quite a bit quieter; our weekly output of garbage and recycling will be lower. I may be able to do more bicycle riding to train for RAGBRAI and more prep work for school next year.

But I’m sure I will miss June. I’ll miss the pool play, the un-birthday party, the extra use of the sandbox and swing set in our backyard, the short lives of the feeder fish, the reading, the horse rides, even the hunts for the elusive sweeties. Mostly, I will miss Juliet and Lizzie and Amanda and Matt.

And, by the way, Amanda, I’m one up in the awesome trip blogging contest!

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The Roll Bake-Off And Other Important Events


The nap.

The nap.

On Thursday night, following a long journey from Norwich, England to Amsterdam, then Minneapolis and, finally, to the Eastern Iowa Airport, Amanda and family arrived in Cedar Rapids.

The house will be full again for the next few weeks, as my eldest daughter, her husband and two little girls are keeping us company. We have yet to figure out what we’re doing and where we are going during that time, although I hope we’ll see most of the family in Iowa at one time or another.

Cousins meet baby cousin.

Cousins meet baby cousin.

Anyway, we had a sibling reunion today. Jon, wish you could have been here, but all the others made it.

The play parachute and plastic balls were a hit. Clementines are popular fruit with all of the young set who have been weaned (several have not). Through the miracle of Skype, the English children don’t treat us as strangers at all, and the cousins have been having lots of fun.

After lunch, I even fell asleep on a love seat, with a granddaughter who had crawled on top of me to hear some books read and who also fell asleep.

Play ball!

who Play ball!

For lunch, we had chili and cinnamon rolls. Katy brought over a pan, and I made a double batch. It was dubbed the roll bakeoff—she made her dough in a bread machine, I used my more traditional method. Her rolls turned out lighter, but mine had a pleasant, crusty texture. I think it was a tie on baking. She won on frosting, since she was generous with homemade cream cheese frosting, while I merely opened a can.

Well, I’m looking forward to more adventures. I’ll have a lot of grading to complete by Monday, but then most of the week can be devoted to family fun. I think that will be nice.

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More ball play.

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This is Norwich …


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Audrey reads a book to Lizzie at the children's section of the city centre public library in Norwich, England.

Fortunately, no blitz to report. It’s day two of your correspondent’s visit to Norwich, England.

As expected, playing with the grandchildren has been the highlight. Lizzie apparently remembers Grampa Joey, as she calls me, and Mama, and her grandmother is called.

Juliette isn’t sure who I am yet, but she is a social and agreeable baby, and can easily be coaxed into a smile.

So far, the trip has featured several satisfying walks, as well as playtimes and various parks. If the whole plant scientist gig goes south, Matt and Amanda could open a very nice restaurant—the eating has been good. I tasted borscht for the first time, and have decided that beets are edible.

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Roof line in residential Norwich--closely packed townhouses are the norm.

Some other observations on life on the eastern side of the pond:

  • Houses in Norwich are tiny, by American standards. Matt and Amanda’s three-bedroom townhouse would fit in some basement rumpus rooms. Yet, it feels quite large enough for a small family—in architectural terms, I suppose I think it’s the American standards that make less sense. The houses in Norwich are mostly connected in long rows, with tiny fenced front gardens and small fenced back gardens. Despite this, there is more trees and open space than I expected in urban England, which is a pleasant surprise.
  • Buildings here are older, interesting and much more muted in hue. Brick is a very dark red—common American red bricks are brighter and redder. The sidewalks here are either very dark grey cement blocks or, more commonly, what appears to be road tar mixed with rock. The streetscape is just a lot darker, as a result. Not in some unpleasant, dour way—the darker hues don’t seem somber, just different.
  • Park equipment is sturdy and serious looking. They go in for more metal and thick wood. Swing sets here look like they are built to withstand gale force winds, which in this part of the world, they probably are. The equipment looks “old school” to American eyes—but not overly dangerous. In fact, I’ve been impressed at the number of parents and kids at playgrounds—parks are smaller here, but much busier.
  • Drivers seem more polite here. Streets are very narrow, so when walking, you’re very close to traffic. But, if you step into a crosswalk, the cars all stop for you. Bikers are common, and sometimes can whiz by and startle you, but for the most part, bikers are considerate of pedestrians, too. Norwich is more compact than Cedar Rapids, and people here walk more. City Centre, what the downtown of Norwich is called, is small shops and busy sidewalks, plus an ancient and colorful central market. It would be hard to visit Cedar Rapids and not have a car to get around in. While I’m sure there would be times when an auto would be handy, doing Norwich by foot is fine.
  • The city library is nice.I liked the system they have in their children’s section—there are bins of unsorted children’s books around the walls. That would not aid you if you’re looking for a particular book, but it’s meant for kids to browse in. Having such accessible books for kids makes sense. Book reviews by 8 and 9 year olds were posted on the wall. The kids illustrate like kids, but have excellent penmenship and are very literate.
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    Amanda and Juliette, out for a stroll in a play area near a school.

    Anyway, no doubt I will write more later. The visit and the company and the food have been excellent.

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